On Thursday, a solar storm is anticipated to create an opportunity for people in 17 American states to witness the Northern Lights, a dazzling display of colors that occurs when solar wind interacts with the atmosphere.
Although the Northern Lights are typically seen in Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia, the ongoing 11-year solar cycle, set to peak in 2024, is making these lights visible in more southerly locations. Just three months ago, the luminous spectacle was observable in Arizona, marking the third significant geomagnetic storm since the start of the current solar cycle in 2019.
The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks has predicted auroral activity for Thursday in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Indiana, Maine, and Maryland. Canada, including Vancouver, is also expected to witness auroras.
Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Helena, Montana can expect to see the light displays directly overhead, while Salem, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Annapolis, Maryland; and Indianapolis can anticipate a glimpse of the lights low on the horizon, according to the institute.
For those eager to witness an aurora, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center advises moving away from city lights. The best viewing times are typically between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time.
Northern Lights materialize when the magnetic solar wind collides with Earth’s magnetic field, causing atoms in the upper atmosphere to emit a glowing effect. The lights can appear suddenly and vary in intensity.
Auroral activity is measured using a geomagnetic index called Kp, which ranges from zero to nine. A value of zero indicates minimal activity, while nine represents a bright and active display. The Geophysical Institute has forecasted a Kp value of 6 for Thursday’s storm.